Songkran is a holiday in Thailand that I avoided for many years. For those not familiar with it, Songkran is a festival in Thailand that the Thais call their New Year (though they also celebrate the international new year and Chinese new year). It dates back to ancient times and coincides with the lunar calendar but the holiday has slowly evolved from a religious and agricultural holiday (April is one of the hottest months in Thailand before the weather begins to cool) into all out three days of water combat and drunkenness.
And that’s one of the reasons I always tried to avoid it. The “understanding” during Songkran is you can pretty much douse anybody with water with no repercussions. What, you just walked out of the mini-mart talking on your phone? Nope, you’re not even allowed to get angry at the person who just turned your high-priced phone into a worthless piece of garbage. You have to smile and deal with the fact you were dumb enough to venture out of your home without having sealed your phone in a waterproof case.
In fact, I just read a Facebook update from a good friend saying that there are a bunch of foreigners out on Soi 11 in Bangkok throwing water on people as they head out to late night nightclubs even though water play is supposed to end at 9pm (his post was well after 9pm Thai time).
It’s almost like the Bangkok (and from what I hear Pattaya and Phuket) version of Songkran is an excuse the push the limits of acceptable behavior.
But several years back I celebrated my first Songkran outside of Bangkok. Out in the provinces you get a little more of the traditional aspect of the holiday. Any Thai who isn’t forcibly chained to a desk travels back to their hometown and pays respect to the elder members of their family. There’s normally a ceremony in which you bathe a Buddha statue and then use the water that was used to wash the Buddha to pour over the elder members of the family.
I actually wrote about my first experience with this ceremony back in 2010 in which a language barrier between my wife and I had me totally confused and her completely frustrated when she asked if I would like to come shower her grandmother and I declined the invite. We still laugh about that one.
The fun part though is the water fights. Up here it’s mostly contained to one specific road though it’s not uncommon to be riding down some back soi through fields of rice or corn and have a small group of ten year old highway bandits stand in your path and give you a squirt or two from their water guns.
This afternoon Ked and I made our way down the main strip of road where the real action takes place armed with only a water gun, my GoPro camera mounted on my chest, a thousand baht note stuffed in my pocket, and have-to-stay-dry items like mobile phones in a waterproof bag.
We went on foot, zig-zagging through cars, motorbikes, throngs of people, and more than a few folks who seemed to have been drinking since breakfast.
As I mentioned in some of my past posts about Songkran up here in Phetchabun, being a caucasian in a place where you might only see 4 or 5 others of your kind out of the thousands and thousands of people celebrating is a funny experience. People will literally cross the street to rub some talcum powder paste in your face or dump a bowl of water on you.
Unfortunately, I had burned through all of my batteries in the GoPro when it happened but at one point late in the day we had met up with some of Ked’s friends and sat on the tailgate of their truck going through the battle zone. As traffic came to a standstill (and the max speed is already only about 5 MPH) four little girls, all about ten or twelve years old, jumped out of a truck that had been heading in the other direction and ran up to our truck and asked, “OK, mai?” (Is it okay?). I smiled and they all jumped on the tailgate next to me squealing with excitement.
Ked started laughing while pretended to be angry asking them if they were trying to steal her husband. Like little children do they just giggled with ear to ear smiles on their faces before eventually scattering off into the crowd a block or two later.
That’s what I like about Songkran up here. The whole vibe is about fun. Of course, many would say the same about Bangkok’s version of Songkran but I’m talking about the real joy you see in people’s faces.
Since a pictures is worth 1000 words, let me shut the heck up and just post some pics :-)
These are off my GoPro that I had on chest mount. So they’re screen grabs from video which I hope to be able to put together into something when I get back to the US.